Gomphocarpus Fruticosus

Swan Plant Milkweed for Monarchs

Gomphocarpus fruticosus common names: Asclepias fruticosa is the old botanical name, Hairy limes, Narrow leaf cotton bush, Swan bush, Swan plant, Swan milkweed

An African Monarch on swan milkweed. This milkweed variety can also be grown for North American monarch butterflies. Learn how to grow this to support monarch butterflies in your garden.
African Princess | © Ferran Pestaña

Gomphocarpus Fruticosus Plant Specs

  • Perennial zone for USDA hardiness zone 10a and up 10a-11 (lows to -1.1 °C or 30 °F)
  • Native plant to South Africa, Eastern Africa
  • Commonly found in New Zealand and South Australia
  • Fast growing annual for colder zones
  • Full sun to part shade
  • Height: 4 to 6 feet (compact shrubby plant compared to giant swan milkweed)
  • Spacing: 3 to 4 ft
  • Thin Leaves
  • White Flowers
  • Blooms mid to late summer
Uncommon Milkweed Idea- Two Danaus chrysippus (plain tiger butterflies) enjoy swan milkweed flowers. Plant this variety to attract Danaus plexippus (monarch butterflies) to your butterfly garden.
Fruticosus Flowers | © Ferran Pestaña

Gomphocarpus Fruticosus Pros

  • Fast growing annual milkweed for northern habitats
  • Foliage can sustain lots of late season monarch caterpillars
  • Year one– this gets more eggs in our northern garden than balloon plant (G. physocarpus)
  • Stems with unique seed pods can be used for a table centerpiece
  • Use long cuttings to feed caterpillars indoors
  • Lasts until after first hard freeze
Swan Milkweed is often confused with balloon plant milkweed but swan has a pointy beak on its seed pods and also has a bushier growth habit. It's cold hardy down to USDA hardiness zone 10, but can be grown as an annual in colder regions.
Pod Formation

Gomphocarpus Fruticosus Cons

  • Annual hardiness zones must start seeds indoors for hopes of harvesting mature seed
  • Flowers aren’t very showy, but still pretty
  • Should be cut back in perennial regions like tropical milkweed to avoid spreading OE parasites.
  • Still testing to see whether this is a nectar source for monarch butterflies and other pollinators it supports. Plant native species and tropical milkweed if you’re looking for a sure thing.
  • Poisonous plants can be harmful to pets or livestock if eaten in large quantities (most pets won’t touch it)
Swan Milkweed gets its common name from the beak-like point emerging from each seed pod. Balloon plant is a similar milkweed variety with fully round pods.
Sun Baked to Perfection
gomphocarpus fruticosus milkweed seeds for monarchs. Plant propagation and where to find these for your butterfly garden
A Happy Ending | © Sid Mosdell

Swan Milkweed Plant Propagation

Cool Moist Stratification in northern regions- fold seeds inside a wet coffee filter, then place inside a sealed plastic food container. We do this in our 3-season porch in March when there is great temperature fluctuations. This is the result after a couple weeks.
COOL Moist Stratification- the stunning results!
  • Start seeds indoors 2 months before final frost
  • Cool moist stratification? put containers in a 3-season porch two months before final frost to experience extreme temperature fluctuations (use same containers as cold moist stratification)
  • Sow seeds directly after final frost (not recommended below zone USDA zone 8)
  • Soak seeds in warm water 24 hours before planting
  • Root Cuttings in water
  • In annual zones, buying plants is recommended if you can find them locally or online
  • In annual zones, overwintering plants indoors is also an option
  • Seed propagation directly in water
Swan milkweed seeds can be propagated in several ways including placing the seeds directly in water. Swan milkweed is a host plant and nectar flower for monarch butterflies.
Swimming Swan Seedlings
Swan milkweed is (surprisingly) a frequently used host plant for monarchs in the US. It grows quickly and can support caterpillars it's first growing season. It grows perennially in warm weather regions...
Summer Swan

Swan Milkweed Growing Tips

  • Start seeds indoors 1-2 months before avg last frost
  • Seeds germinate in less than one week with heat and moisture
  • Use an oscillating clip fan ir?t=monabuttgard 20&l=ur2&o=1 gomphocarpus fruticosuson seedlings to strengthen the stems to simulate an outdoor breeze…a must for strong stems!
  • Can hybridize with Gomphocarpus physocarpus- choose one if you don’t want this to happen
  • Cut- Is fall setting in before seeds are ready to harvest? Take stem cuttings with the largest pods (leave seed pods attached) and place them in water. This should give them the time they need to finish developing.
  • Don’t force open seed pods…they will start to open when they are ready
Gomphocarpus fruticosus milkweed- two plain tiger butterflies (an african monarch relative) sit on a swan milkweed pod. You can grow this in North American butterfly gardens too.
Right on Point | © Ferran Pestaña

Pollinator Plus

The plain tiger butterfly (Danaus chrysippus) uses swan bush as a host and nectar plant in regions of Africa, Asia, and Australia. I’ll report on North American visitors as they are seen or reported by others. Please comment below if you know of any North American pollinators that frequent this milkweed variety.

Buy Swan Plants and Seeds

Always purchase milkweed seeds and plants by botanical (scientific) name to avoid purchasing the wrong milkweed species:

1. Find Gomphocarpus Fruticosus Seeds on Etsy

2. Buy Gomphocarpus Fruticosus Seeds Hereir?t=monabuttgard 20&l=ur2&o=1 gomphocarpus fruticosus

One more time: starting seeds indoors early or overwintering plants will give you a huge jump on the season and is a must for northern gardeners. This milkweed species is a rare find in nurseries, so seeds are probably your best option to get started in most regions.

Would you like to extend the growing season for warm weather milkweed varieties in your garden? You can start seeds early and/or overwinter milkweed plants indoors. Find out more about growing SWAN milkweed for monarchs...
Overwintering Swan Milkweed

Click here to Explore 30 Milkweed Options for your Butterfly Garden

Please post below if you have any questions or comments about growing Gomphocarpus fruticosus (swan milkweed) in your garden:
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  1. Do the plants require pollen from another plant or is self pollination adequate. I have seen plants pollinated manually, in the absence of insects. Just curious.

    1. Hi Severra, our plants (in Minnesota) are pollinated mostly by wasps, and I’ve seen a couple red admirals, and painted ladies on them…

  2. This year I grew Swan (11 plants from seed from CA & TX) and Giant Swan – 3 plants. I had some Cat activity on the Swan, but not the Giant Swan, I had lots of blooms on the Giant and have about 15 pods. I only had a couple of blooms on the Swan, even though I had 11 plants, but they fell off so no seed pods.

    The Swan got ~ 4 – 5 feet tall and the Giant Swan got > 6 feet.

    1. Hi David, interesting info about the lack of flowering/seeding down south. Both species flower and form lots of seed pods in our northern region. We start seeds early (or start with plants) because of our abbreviated growing season.

  3. Other pollinators? Yes. My plants have bees and wasps all day, every day, 24×7. No problems, but it’s the busiest of all my milkweed plant varieties.

  4. You asked to post if we have other pollinators frequenting this milkweed, and the answer is YES. Bees all day, every day, and wasps. No problems, but a lot of activity!

  5. We have been growing Swan Plants to help feed the Monarch butterflies but finding that some of the plants have leaves that go pale green mottled. We start them off in our conservatory, which does get hot. Is this something to do with the heat, or is there a disease on the plants?

  6. I live in Pittsburgh. PA. USA. Do you think I would be able to grow the swan Milkweeds in my area of the country?

    1. Hi Twila, it will grow in your region as an annual. We also overwintered one of our plants (indoors) in Minnesota.

  7. Hi, Tony,
    I know of someone who wants to grow Gomphocarpas physocarpus from seeds I am going to send her. She has no yard or balcony. Is it possible to grow this milkweed to maturity from a window? She only wants seeds if the plant can grow indoors. Thanks.

    1. Hi Wendy, I am overwintering some indoors and it’s doing well. If the plant gets a fair amount of daylight it could possibly work as a host plant…of course, it won’t seed without pollinators. I’ll be interested to hear how it works out!

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